Functional Programming for Modular Bayesian Inference

Change log
Ścibior, AM 
Kammar, Ohad 

We present an architectural design of a library for Bayesian modelling and inference in modern functional programming languages. The novel aspect of our approach are modular implementations of existing state-of- the-art inference algorithms. Our design relies on three inherently functional features: higher-order functions, inductive data-types, and support for either type-classes or an expressive module system. We provide a perfor- mant Haskell implementation of this architecture, demonstrating that high-level and modular probabilistic programming can be added as a library in sufficiently expressive languages. We review the core abstractions in this architecture: inference representations, inference transformations, and inference representation transformers. We then implement concrete instances of these abstractions, counterparts to particle filters and Metropolis-Hastings samplers, which form the basic building blocks of our library. By composing these building blocks we obtain state-of-the-art inference algorithms: Resample-Move Sequential Monte Carlo, Particle Marginal Metropolis-Hastings, and Sequential Monte Carlo Squared. We evaluate our implementation against existing probabilistic programming systems and find it is already com- petitively performant, although we conjecture that existing functional programming optimisation techniques could reduce the overhead associated with the abstractions we use. We show that our modular design enables deterministic testing of inherently stochastic Monte Carlo algorithms. Finally, we demonstrate using OCaml that an expressive module system can also implement our design.

probabilistic programming, functional programming, Bayesian inference, higher-order functions, inductive types, type-classes, module systems, monads, monad transformers, machine learning, Anglican, WebPPL, Markov Chain Monte Carlo, Sequential Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo samplers
Journal Title
Proceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages
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Association for Computing Machinery
EPSRC (1471629)
EPSRC (via University of Sheffield) (143103)
Alan Turing Institute (EP/N510129/1)